Hostile Makeover
by Wendy Wax, contemporary (2005)
Bantam, $6.50, ISBN 0-553-58795-1

I don't know what Wendy Wax is trying to do in Hostile Makeover but I really wish she hasn't done what she did. This book is more appropriately marketed as a chick-lit book rather than a romance novel because the entire story is all about the adventures of the heroine Shelley in growing up with some of the subplots about her sister Judy and Shelley's friend Nina thrown in for added fun. Shelley falls in love but there is zero point of view from the intended Mr Right Ross Morgan in this story. Also, Shelley is seeing and sleeping with her boyfriend Trey for the most part of this story: it is only towards the end when she realizes that Ross is the one for her. This book breaks a lot of the cardinal formula of the romance genre so readers who don't like chick-lit books have better proceed with caution.

The heroine of the story, Shelley Schwartz, is not for readers who have no patience with heroines who aren't selfless and doormatsy off the bat. At thirty-four, she is still incapable of doing anything right. Perceived by her father's employees as a token presence in the advertizing agency Schwartz and Associates, Shelley is nonetheless hoping that her father will leave the company to her, er, "capable" hands when he retires. She's the only one hurt when, after surviving a heart attack, her father decides to hand over the reins of the company to Ross. Ross however expects her to work and hands over to her a list of her new clients: the D-grade clients that the company can afford to lose. Shelley correctly deduces that Ross is tryin to get her to resign and she's not going to offer him the satisfaction of seeing her do just that.

Thing is, I'm told again and again that Ross and Shelley had some chemistry going on that culminated in a sexual tryst in the closet a year ago, but come on. Ross and Shelley have zero chemistry. Ross is the most judgmental twit ever and completely wrong for Shelley. Because this story offers no insight into Ross' psyche, Ross comes off as an insufferable judgmental jerk for so long in the story and his sudden morph into Prince Charming by the last chapter is as convincing as me announcing to all and sundry that I am buying over HarperCollins and that HarperCollins will operate exclusively as a sex education brouchure and pamphlet printing press at immediate notice. Those two have zero chemistry and their interactions as quite painful to read as Ross almost always ends up reducing Shelley's confidence into shreds.

Shelley's growing up is fun to read even though Ms Wax makes it a little too easy for her. Ms Wax, however, gives Shelley this convincing and spontaneous charisma that makes it easy for me to believe that Shelley can really charm her way through the client list and makes things work for everyone when she puts her mind to it. Shelley isn't selfish - she's not malicious, let's just put it this way - and it is understandable, to me, that she turns out this way because her parents coddle and pamper her from a young age. Not that Ms Wax is trying to pass the blame to Shelley's parents, though: Shelley has to face some very important questions about what she wants in life and how she intends to go about changing her life for the better, and at the end of the day she changes because she wants to and not because her parents suddenly start realizing and telling her that she's the greatest or something like that.

Judy's subplot about the perfect wife who experiences an early midlife crisis when she realizes how much her children and her husband take her for granted isn't the most original story around, but for the most part Ms Wax also manages to make Judy's story as fun and even poignant as Shelley's. This is mostly because Judy feels real instead of some stereotypical Good Sister Gone Wild character: Judy and Shelley are good friends, for example, despite acknowledging the differences between them and the two sisters work with each other most of the time to change their lives instead of rehashing some tepid drama about which sister is loved by the parents more. That scene where Judy and Shelley both decide to live life a little wilder by eating a huge sundae without guilt is a hoot to read.

Judy and Shelley are Jewish and their Jewishness plays a big part in Shelley wanting to rebel against her parents' expectations of her. While I am skeptical of "ethnic comedies" that were all the rage when people thought My Big Fat Greek Wedding was funny, I find myself symphatizing and chuckling along with Shelley as she finds herself dating white-bread men just to subconsciously vex her mother who insists that Shelley marries a Jewish guy. I am not amused though when this aspect of the story is used as one last contrivance to demonstrate why Ross is more suited to Shelley than Trey. Give me a break: all Ross has going for him is that he gives Shelley good orgasms. Outside the bedroom, he is a sanctimonious twit who insists that Shelley has to prove herself to him again and again. Shelley changes despite Ross, if you ask me. I don't think I will ever warm up to Ross as the idea of the right guy for Shelley because he doesn't trust her where it counts the most. I feel that trust is the most important thing in a romantic relationship, even more important than orgasms in the long run, and Ross fails Shelley in this and he doesn't prove that he actually sees Shelley as anything more than a little girl trophy to add to his cabinet of achievements by the last page.

The painfully mismatched main couple gives off a huge sense of wrongness, enough to neutralize my joy with the very nicely-written character development of Shelley and her likeable friend and sister as well as with the bouncy humor and sharp one-liners. By the last page, I feel like screaming because I really cringe at the idea of the humorless telephone-pole-up-arse Ross getting his hairy paws all over the efferverscent and sparkly Shelley like that. Which is why I question what Wendy Wax is trying to do in her story. I mean, why on earth would an author ruin her heroine by pairing her at the end with the worst kind of man possible for someone of her personality? Is she trying to tell me that it is right for Shelley to end up with someone who will constantly judge her wanting and berate her for being a spoiled little girl when everyone else can see that she's trying to change for the better?

Reading this book is like seeing Bambi learning to walk, running happily around, enjoying the sun and the trees... only to get run down by a truck the moment she reaches the highway.

Rating: 77

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